Wednesday, July 24, 2013




    Hope, long-lasting fever of men's lives,
constant beguiler of my weary eyes,
you keep the needle of the balance poised
at the still centre between joys and fears.
   You hover at the midpoint, disinclined
to move this way or that, lest your deceit
allow too free a hand to either state:
 unbounded confidence, abject defeat.
   Who was it claimed you never killed a man?
That you're a slayer anyone can tell
from the suspense in which you keep the soul
    poised between lucky and unlucky chance.
Nor is it true your aim is multiplying
our days on earth: it's to protract dying.

The 17th century Mexican was acclaimed in her time as the "Phoenix of Mexico. America's Tenth Muse". She is now considered as one of the finest Hispanic poets of seventeenth.

Her life reads like a novel. A spirited and precocious girl, one of six illegitimate children, is sent to live with relatives in the capital city. She becomes known for her beauty, wit, and amazing erudition, and is taken into the court as the Vicereine's protégée. For five years she enjoys the pleasures of life at court--then abruptly, at twenty, enters a convent for life. Yet, no recluse, she transforms the convent locutory into a literary and intellectual salon; she amasses an impressive library and collects scientific instruments, reads insatiably, composes poems, and corresponds with literati in Spain. To the consternation of the prelates of the Church, she persists in circulating her poems, redolent more of the court than the cloister. Her plays are performed, volumes of her poetry are published abroad, and her genius begins to be recognized throughout the Hispanic world. Suddenly she surrenders her books, forswears all literary pursuits, and signs in blood a renunciation of secular learning. The rest is silence. She dies two years later, at forty-six.

I had heard a lot about this Mexican nun who had written a lot of love poetry too but never had a chance to read. In August,  while I was in Toronto, we went for a picnic to  "Thousand Islands". On return, we stopped at the city of "Kingston " for lunch. It was Sunday and adjacent to our dining place was a busy Sunday  market . A second handbook seller had many left over poetry collections. I picked 5 fine poetry collections  for a total of 10 dollars that included "A Sor Juana Anthology" brilliantly translated by Alan Trueblood with an introduction by none other than the great Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz. It was as if the book was waiting for me.

Emily Dickinson has romantically sang
“Hope" is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops -at all-".

 But here is a different take on Hope and  I love Sor Juana's pessimistic tone  . More realistic too.   'Hope'  often succeeds to cleverly  balance between "Joy and Sorrow",  "unbounded confidence and  abject defeat” but its true intention is to protract death.

Ref: "A Sor Juana Anthology" translated by Alan Trueblood